Nothing in Cairo goes to waste. It is a city in which an entire district is devoted to recycling, and much of the results end up in an enormous open air flea-market. In every nook and corner of Cairo, you will find plethora of skilled artisans and craftsmen, who can work with almost any material. They carve, shape, sew, hammer, and mend objects that are kept in use way longer than most would expect. Cairo‘s Friday Market or the Souq al Goma is one such commercial space which specializes in these unique things and it is the penultimate sign of Cairene thriftiness. Located under El-Tonsi Bridge in the middle of the City of the Dead, it is a place as Egyptians say you can find anything “from needle to rock,” at the cheapest prices. You can shop for furniture, mobile phones, ceramic tiles, clothes, shoes, antiques, stamps, spices, books, bicycles, meat, olives, carpets, dried fish, animals, and coins all at one space.
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Exploring Souq al Goma is like walking into an encyclopedia for a flea market
Exploring the Souq al Goma is like walking into an endless depth of shopping oppurtunities which range from useful, great finds, priceless, worthless, total junk, to downright bizarre. The market has major subsections on secondhand clothes, furniture, animals, books, and almost anything else sandwiched in between. Hunt, bargain, photograph and search through almost endless materials for hours. Souq al Goma is thoroughly absorbing and exhausting. It is also dirty and extremely crowded, yet from what I found out from my last visit, was not woman unfriendly. Dressing unobrtusively and bringing a friend, however is strictly advisable for visiting this crazy, commercial sprawl. In my last post, I have described in details our experience of the Souq al Goma, but it is difficult to convey the market‘s wide spectrum of things for sale, without dedicating a photo essay. So here goes, Souq al Goma, one of the largest flea markets in Egypt. I highly suggest a quick read of the previous post on the Friday Market in Cairo‘s City of the Dead before going through this photo essay. It will help you get a better picture of the urban crazy sprawl of Souq al Goma.
This lady was selling shelled peas from her baskets. The woman next to her sold mussels. She was seated near the sea shell seller. A predatory bird shop sold falcons and hawks opposite them, while a customer checked out pigeons and rabbits for sale. Just another day at Souq al Goma.
Do you wish to buy a puppy, hen, pigeon, dove, pheasant, hawk, falcon, snake, turtle, piranha, weasel, or a monitor lizard? They also sell live donkeys.
Souq al Goma being located in the City of the Dead, there are no sewage or garbage collection facilities. Illegal housing structures tower dangerously in clumps amidst the market and every year, many die from collapse of these unstable buildings. Much of the Friday Market business people live in these housings and they are the late comers who could not grab a grave for making a home at the City of the Dead.
The market gets more interesting as you head towards the clothes section. Many believe that they are taken off the newly arrived corpses‘ backs. Judging from their smell, their assumption seem quite right. There are some shops selling new garments as well and they are next to the guys selling old television, and other electronic goods. If you are lucky or have sharp eyes, you might stumble upon something which actually works.
The Souq al Goma sprawls beyond the clothes section and suddenly gets crowded with people selling tools, machinery parts etc. Most of the sellers are happy with their business and they go about the work with real swag. Sheets neatly spread with nails, screw drivers, wires, hammers, chisels, etc unfurl in front of enclosed tombs and an old fashioned blacksmith pound on hot iron nearby. Sometimes, the Souq al Goma does not even seem real anymore.
The pretzels, pickles, dried fish, lemon, cookies, and olive sellers came next. They peddle their wares near bicycle shops and carpet weavers.
The most amazing part of Souq al Goma was the mind boggling variety of things on sale at the market. The Egyptians were not joking when they said, “anything from needles to rocks”. Otherwise, where else can you buy shisha pipes, next to carburetor shops, all the while shopping for headphone, twine, a puppy, fish gut, and a carpet. Then there were the small time swindlers, gamblers, corn on cob, karkade (hibiscus tea), loofah, and light bulbs sellers. Though, held everyday, Souq al Goma reaches its maximum capacity on Fridays. The other days, I guess are reserved for recovering from the Friday Market shopping and shocks.
Travel tip for Souq al Goma
Souq al Goma or the Friday Market occurs from 8 AM. until about 2 PM, under the Moqattam Hills. It can be reached on foot or taxi from the Citadel. Go before 10 AM to avoid the crush of people. Tell the taxi driver ‘Khalifa’, the name of the neighbourhood or ask for the Souq al Goma. Do not bring a lot of money, and do not dress flashy. Also beware of pickpockets at the Friday Market. Women visitors are advised to explore the market with male friends, who know the area.
P.S – This blog post is part of the weekly series called the Cairo Chronicles. Every week, Maverickbird will take on a new theme, emotion, and beauty of an expat life in the exciting, maddening city of Cairo.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE